Happy Thanksgiving King Kong

Written by Joe D on November 26th, 2009

wor60s1.gifwor70s.jpgWhen I was a kid WOR TV out of NYC would show King Kong every Thanksgiving. I really looked forward to seeing those natives getting chewed up in Kong’s giant teeth and watching the unsuspecting elevated subway riders on their way home from a hard day’s work as Max Steiner’s locomotive tension music pulsated on the soundtrack, then Kong’s head would peep up in the hole he had just made in the tracks and the old engineer would throw on the brake! Too late!
Take the A Train!
Oh well, I just read some where that the original armature of Kong sold recently at Southeby’s for like $200,000 , probably more that Willis O’Brien made in his lifetime.
That little metal skeleton that scared the hell out of millions of people acting out Mr. O’Briens brainwaves.
Willis O’Brien and his little buddy

Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus

Written by Joe D on November 23rd, 2009

Seeing a great film for the first time is an intoxicating, inspiring event. Especially if it’s one that you’ve known about for years, seen stills of incredible images reproduced in books, read about, etc. This is the case with me and Jean Cocteau’s masterpiece Orpheus. I happened to catch the second half of it on TCM the other night and was mesmerized from the first frame. I caught it right when Orpheus climbs back into his bedroom and is told by Death’s chaufer that his wife, Eurydice, is dead.

I’m only telling you this to make a point. Coming in on the film like this I was immediately struck by the distinctly American feeling of this scene. The bedroom had a floral wallpaper, it was small, with small beds, Orpheus climbing in through the window, it really reminded me of Leave it to Beaver!



Gee Orpheus, Wally, I mean Eurydice’s dead!

The way it looked, the Black and White photography. Except they were talking about Death and the path they must take to the next world to rescue, or resuscitate Eurydice. This to me is the great power of this film. Cocteau takes the mundane, the everyday objects and places that make up our lives and shows them to be miraculous, full of mystery, portals to other dimensions. Can a poet strive for a higher goal?


Jean Marais puts his hands into a pool of Mercurey, that’s why Cocteau made rubber gloves the magical key to pierce the Mirror, Mercurey is deadly poison!

Mirrors that lead to the Underworld. Death as a beautiful women in a black Rolls Royce, escorted by two leather clad motorcyclists. What an image!


Death’s Wheels!

Death, What A Way To Go!


Death’s dress subtly changes from Black to White in the same scene. The costumes are exceptionally cool!

The elevation of the mundane to the marvelous is also a big part of Silent Film. This is why the masters like Keaton etc, were revered by the Surrealists. They created poetry from salt shakers,boats built in basements, houses moved by car, run through by locomotives. It became a basic tenet of Surrealism, an ordinary object placed in an unexpected context. Consider the urinal signed R. Mutt submitted by Marcel Duchamp to the Armory show, (okay Dadaist but a direct precursor to Surrealist). In a memorable section Cocteau illustrates the Creative Process in a beautiful unique way. Orpheus is obsessed by the strange broadcasts that he can only receive on the car radio in Death’s limousine, he copies them down and publishes them as poetry.

Later we find out that Death has Cegeste, a young poet she had killed by her cyclists , writing the poetry and transmitting it to the car radio expressly for Orpheus to hear.


Dead Poet Society- Cegeste (Cocteau’s current lover) transmits to Orpheus(Cocteau’s former lover)

Okay to me the Creative Process works like this: all artists are standing on the shoulders of those who came before and have passed on to the next dimension. Where do ideas come from? I often have the distinct feeling that they are transmissions from deceased artists to receptive beings here on Earth. I think Cocteau felt the same way hence this amazing illustration of the principle. Also a car radio, another run of the mill object we all deal with everyday! Although Radio is inherently mysterious, these invisible waves that beam around the globe carrying thoughts, voice, music, stories. The effects Cocteau uses are all basic film effects, reverse motion, rear projection, but once again transformed through the prism of his intellect into pure poetry, something direly missing from films made today. The world Orpheus lives in is a special place, where a poet is as famous as a rock star or a movie star.


Cocteau didn’t like the artsy type extras he got from Central Casting so he invited real Bohemians to populate his Cafe Des Poets!


Teenaged girls mob Orpheus as Death gets into her other Cool Carfan-girls-copy.jpg

This predates Elvis and the Beatles. Luis Bunuel said he had dreamed of the Beatles many years before they existed, four young men with strange haircuts who caused riots whereever they went!

Since this film was made in 1949 Orpheus looks kind of like Elvis Presley. Pretty Cool to take a Greek Myth and update it with teenagers, motorcycles, radios, coffee houses, etc. probably another reason why the film doesn’t seem dated. Also I noticed a cameo by director Jean Pierre Melville playing the manager of a hotel. Melville directed the adaptation of Cocteau’s novel Les enfants terribles.


Jean Pierre Melville’s Cameo

Finally Death is called to the carpet by a tribunal of Old White Men! The Old White Guys even get to pass Judgement on Death!



Even Death gets Judged!

To say I love this film is an understatement, I bought the dvd and it’s sadly lacking in extras, hey Criterion I’ll gladly do a commentary on this Masterpiece!
To sum it up, Watch this film! I dare you not to be Inspired or Astonished!

Columbia Film Noir Classics

Written by Joe D on November 11th, 2009

Columbia Pictures just released a film noir box set of 5 dvds, all of them classics. There’s Edward Dymytrk’s The Sniper an early serial killer story set in San Francisco and starring Monster On The Campus leading man Arthur Franz. Martin Scorsese adds a commentary.
Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat starring Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin and Gloria Graham. Directors Michael Mann and Scorsese toss their 2 cents in on this gem.

Phil Karlson’s 5 against The House with Brian “rub my jaw” Keith. A vegas caper flick. No commentary on this one, a telling comment in itself?

Don “I hate hippies” Siegel’s The Lineup starring Tuco himself, Eli Wallach gets comments from Noir Guru and straight man, Eddie Mueller and mad dog James Ellroy. A lot of fun to be had by all on this track.
And last but not least Irving Lerner’s Murder By Contract starring Hammerhead Vince Edwards, who I used to see at the racetrack all the time.

This film was a big influence on Mr. Scorsese, I think it’s really interesting how some of the best directors out there were influenced by B movies or even Z movies! Quentin Tarantino for example, also Jean Luc Godard has expressed his regard for Monogram Pictures ( the cheapest of the cheap). Anyway I for one have put this set on my Xmas list! I hope I find it under the tree when I awaken Dec. 25th.

Max Reinhardt

Written by Joe D on November 3rd, 2009

Max Reinhardt, king of German theater had to flee Nazi oppression at the height of his creative success. He came to America, staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl and was signed to a contract by Warner Bros. to direct a film version. I guess it didn’t make money because Reinhardt didn’t get to make any other films. But the film he did make with William Dieterle co-directing is incredibly beautiful. Fantastic images in luminous Black and White, they must have upped the silver content in that batch of nitrate film because the images positively glow!

A number of Reinhardt’s collaborators from Germany re-located to Hollywood and created some of the most creative films ever made there. Dieterle made the incredible Portrait Of Jennie, a magical film beloved by none other than the great Surrealist Luis Bunuel.

Although Dieterle was driven to drink and a nervous breakdown by the incessant barrage of telegrams from amphetamine fueled producer David O. Selznick. The cameraman Joseph August of that film died soon after of a heart attack, Selznick strikes again? John Brahm, director of The Lodger, The Locket, and Hangover Square was a Reinhardt alumnus.


John Brahm

So was Otto Preminger, not a filmmaker of Fantasy, but definetly a ground-breaker when it came to sex, race, drugs, Black-Listing. Plus he directed the archtypal Laura.


Mr. Freeze says “Where’s Dorothy Dandridge?”

And Edgar G. Ulmer labored in the Art Department for Reinhardt. He directed the Bauhaus influenced Horror fim The Black Cat. A curious coincidence, Reinhardt opened an Acting School in Hollywood to pay his bills, Anne Savage attended and hit it off with Max, she later starred in Ulmer’s Detour.


Edgar G. Ulmer, a Black Cat crossed his path at Universal

Here’s a promotional film about the making of A Midsummer Night’s Dream